Getting Push-up Ready

The Push-up is the most basic compound exercise and it has been practiced for centuries. It engages muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. Unfourtuately, most people can do very few with proper form. No program that offers to make you do 100 push-ups in a few weeks will work for most people. The reason for this failure is the compound nature of the exercise. It just works too much of the body for most people.

The one hundred push-ups site and the 7 Weeks to 100 Push-ups book will only work for people who are already somewhat fit and strong. My solution to this problem is to strengthen some of the muscles that are worked in the push-up. For example, I began this series with the chain-breakers and butterflies, then proceeded to abs and squats. Now the next area to strengthen is the triceps. All of these are worked in doing the basic push-up.

The Dip

If you now do 200 crunches and 200 squats 3 times per week, it is time to start getting the triceps in shape by doing dips. You don’t need a fancy machine — all you need is a chair. Get a chair and go to the one fifty dips site. Copy the set of progressions, do the test, and start the programme. Simple.


Getting to the Core of the Matter


Every devout orthodox digital troglodyte (AKA Expert Searcher) must stay fit, and that doesn’t require a gym. In this installment, I will deal with the main core exercise you need to do to stay strong and fit — the sit-up, or more properly the crunch. I have written about abdominal exercies before, but this article is for the less fit individual. See No Gym Required – Abs Exercises II,  No Gym Required – Abs Exercises III, and No Gym Required – Abs Exercises IV for more advanced exercises.

The crunch is the first ab exercise to undertake is the the crunch as it does not strain the lower back when done properly. Proper form is to do it with the lumbar spine in a neutral position. That is, the lower spine is not squashed flat against the floor when doing the crunch.

A properly scaled set of progressions may be found at twohundredsitups. This programme is properly scaled for the average person.


Compound Exercises

Let me help you with your new year’s resolution. In a previous article I dealt with the exercises that help prevent the damage computers inflict upon the upper back.  In this installment, I will deal with the main compound exercises you need to do to stay strong and fit.

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time.  This type of exercise is the foundation of physical fitness — don’t try to become a body builder using isolation exercises if what you really need is functional strength and general fitness.

Isolation exercises work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. Examples of isolation exercises include the biceps curl or the quadriceps extension.   To get the most out of isolation exercises you must have a preexisting  strength to protect the joint and to prevent injury to the related connective tissue.

Don’t fall into the trap that I see so often. A small man trying to become a big man. This guy gives-up on the compound exercises because they make him feel like he was hit by a freight train. He wants to be a big man like the body builders. He quickly discovers that the machines in the gym do all the body builder’s exercises and they are easier. He then starts to suffer injuries in and around the shoulders, knees, low back, and hips.

Compound exercises are tough work. To avoid the worst of the ‘I was hit by a freight train’ feeling you need realistic expectations and a proper set of progressions designed to get you to a realistic level of fitness and strength.

An exercise progression is one in which the workload is increased in predetermined steps. Ideally, the increments are sufficient to stimulate improvements but not great enough to cause damage.

Progressions are based upon the principle which states that fitness improves only when workloads are greater than those normally encountered. The workload can be quantified in terms of training intensity (rate of doing work which is usually the time allowed or number of repetitions) or training volume (the total amount of work done or most often the weight or resistance level). The principle applies to all aspects of fitness including strength, speed, and endurance of muscle contractions. It also applies to improvements in flexibility and the strength of bones, joints, and ligaments. This is normally called the overload principle.

Please notice the word ‘overload’. The progressions will leave somewhat sore. However, once you are able to do the the number of repetions that is your goal, then the soreness will go away. The number of repetions that is your goal becomes the ‘normal’ workload.

Squats, abdominal crunches, and push-ups are the most basic compound exercises. They are also the exercises that create the foundation of strength and endurance.

I’ll deal with the basic squat first.

The Squat

A great example of a compound exercise is the squat exercise. This engages many muscles in the lower body and core, including the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the glutes, the lower back and the core.

Leg strength is often ignored by men.  After all, who comments of how good a man’s legs look.  This is a mistake because the legs and hip muscles account for over half the body’s weight.  Building leg strength can lead to a decrease of overall body fat as the increased lean muscle mass will speed-up the metabolism.

The key to doing a sufficient number of squats is in the progressions.  To be considered fit, you should be able to do 200 body-weight squats in one non-stop set.

The progressions found at Two Hundred Squats are well designed to accommodate a wide range of initial  fitness levels.  This site has several related sites, but I have reservations about the progressions offered for some of the other exercises.

I’ll try to do one article per week for the next few weeks. These articles will cover the basic body-weight compound exercises and suggestions regarding suitable progressions designed to achieve an adequate level of fitness.



New Year Resolutions

I know you secretly rebel against exercise in all its forms, but it is something we all must do.  Being an Investigator is the world’s most dangerous sit-down job, and computers have made it much more dangerous.  No matter what type of investigations we do, we spend too much time sitting.

I know you have made a resolution to start exercising. You don’t need to go to a gym to become stronger and more fit.

Stand-up Desks

In 2008 I wrote a series of articles on building a stand-up desk and I know first-hand the benefits and draw-backs of this.  Alex Hutchinson wrote about this in the Globe and Mail recently. His article illustrates that a stand-up desk is not a panacea for a sedentary computer-based job.

I have a typing desk for the lap-top computer and a writing desk in my office to prevent overuse type of pain that develops from staying in one position , so I guess I’m on the right path.

Butterflies & Chain Breakers

As a very devoted orthodox digital troglodyte (AKA Expert Searcher) I slave over a hot computer all day. This can quickly turn one into a weak, fat, and unfit troglodyte. This is a bad thing — a very bad thing — if a marauding felonious geek wants to invade and take-over my state-of-the-art cave.

These exercises help prevent me from becoming the weakest digital troglodyte on the block and they deal with the specific problems associated with using a computer all day.

This video is from the guys who wrote a book called Felon Fitness.

Be careful with these if you are really out of shape or you will be very sore and have headaches. It’s best to do only 3 or 4 repetitions of each, three times a day for a week to understand how your upper back and shoulders will react to the unaccustomed exercise.


No Gym Required

We’re in the dead of winter and I’m slaving over a hot computer. But the digital hermit must stay fit and that doesn’t require a gym.

I have spent a large portion of my life in a gym. One thing I noticed was that the faces around me didn’t change much, but neither did the abilities of most people who went to the gym. The reason their abilities didn’t change was because they didn’t really train — they just went to the gym as if that would miraculously transform them into an athlete.

Here are some suggestions that will allow you to get stronger and more fit.

One Hundred Push-ups

Two Hundred Sit-ups

Two Hundred Squats

These programmes are properly scaled for the average person. However, you may find that you get stuck and have to repeat a particular workout a couple of times before progress is possible.

Two books offer similar programmes:

7 Weeks to 50 Pull-Ups: Strengthen and Sculpt Your Arms, Shoulders, Back, and Abs by Training to Do 50 Consecutive Pull-Ups

7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups: Strengthen and Sculpt Your Arms, Abs, Chest, Back and Glutes by Training to do 100 Consecutive Push-Ups

This seems to be the best general-purpose body weight exercise book:

You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises

New Year’s Resolution

As the new year approaches you will be tempted to look at your expanding waistline and say, “I’m going to get in shape”.

The problem with information work is that it always takes longer to accomplish any task than you will admit. Your work day always intrudes on personal time. Personal time you would devote to “getting in shape” mysteriously evaporates.

What you need is a fitness regimen that takes little space, little time, and gets results. How does 11 minutes a day in the space of a yoga mat sound? This isn’t some expensive fad; it’s been around since 1960, it’s effective, and it’s free.


The program was originally developed as a fitness regimen for the Royal Canadian Air Force by Dr. William (Bill) Orban. The program was simple, took little time and was easily adaptable for everyone, from jet pilots to office workers. The 5BX (5 Basic Exercises) fitness plan debunked the notion that fitness requires sustained, rigorous exercise.

Today some of the most expensive exercise programmes, and one machine that sells for fifteen thousand dollars follow Oban’s fundamental principles.

The only change to 5BX that I would make is to use the abs exercises that I wrote about here to replace the sit-ups in charts 2 through 4.

When you start this don’t  jump in with both feet and start on chart 3 or 4. Instead, start at the beginning and do it every morning. If you can’t do it every day due to soreness, then drop down a level or two until you can. Fitness comes from consistency  and persistence. Put this in your Monthly Habit List.

You are welcome to download a copy  of the 1986-1988 reprint (1.8MB PDF zipped up).

Assembling and Finishing the Standing Desk

Previous article

Putting it together

Drilling holes

Use a ⅜″ brad-point drill to make the clearance holes for the leg bolts. With only a hand-held power drill the bolt holes will never be straight. This is not a problem with a couple of bolts in place just re-drill  the holes that are crooked – problem solved.

To ensure that the leg does not protrude beyond the foot use a  shim under leg when you drill the holes. Use a square and level to make sure the leg and foot will be perpendicular when they are assembled.

The 1/4″ lag screws will require a 1/4″ clearance hole through the stringer and 3/16″ pilot holes in the legs. Drill the pilot holes first then the clearance hole. I suggest drilling these holes as you assemble the desk in place.

Dado & Rabbet Joint

The dado and rabbet joint may be made on a table saw or radial arm saw, but if you lack them use a simple hand powered mitre saw.  Use a sharp chisel to clean-up the joint surfaces.


I chose polyurethane varnish with an included oak stain. This required 5 coats to get a good finish. To apply this finish buy a 3″ and 1.5″ brushes designed for this type of varnish or the finish will be full of streaks and bubbles. Those cheap foam applicators won’t do the job.

Keyboard tray

I purchased a keyboard tray runners from Lee Valley Tools and a simple 16″ x 36″ pine panel from Home Depot.  Some sanding and varnish and it was ready. Only one thing – the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard was too high to slide under the desktop. I installed 3/4″ plywood spacers to drop the keyboard shelf and all was well again in my world.

Not enough room for the keyboard

3/4″ spacers added

Assemble in place

To assemble the desk,  I took the assembled legs into my office and then added the stringers. Using a square, I aligned the legs carefully and first drilled the pilot holes then the clearance holes in the stringers. With the 1/4″ lag bolts installed the base was ready.

I installed the keyboard tray on the underside of the desktop, then I aligned the desktop on the base. The top was secured using simple angle brackets and screws.

The finished desk

Designing the Standing Desk

Preceding article


I designed the desk around the tools I had at hand. A small table saw, jig saw, drill, and router, along with a few hand tools.


This desk was designed around the fasteners. Screws don’t hold very well in end-grain. The 3½” long ⅜″ bolts hold the feet and desktop supports and  1/4″ lag screws go through a lap joint at the end of the stringer and into the leg through the dado rather than into the end-grain of the stringer. You will need ⅜″ and 1/4″ brad point drills for clearance holes and a 3/16″ for pilot holes for the lag screws.


The Baltic Birch plywood comes in 5′ by 5′ sheets. The lumberyard cut this in half for me, but I later found it would have been better if desktop portion was 2″ wider. This would have left a nicer overhang of the feet and desktop supports.

From the smaller portion, cut eight 7½″ high pieces. These should then be cut to a pattern made from bristol board, like the one seen behind the router in the above picture, with a jigsaw or scroll saw. The best of these will become a template to make them all uniform size by using a template bit in your router. The edges that don’t contact the floor or desktop may then be rounded using a ⅜″radius bit.

These large feet and desktop supports will allow you some tolerance for uneven cuts or floors.

DIY Standing Desk

Preceding article

The Standing Desk

I started using a standing desk because sitting all day was causing back pain, but I have discovered that working at a standing desk makes me more alert and energetic. My early search for a standing desk that would support two screens and a keyboard was a dismal failure. The desks I found were far too expensive, poorly made, or configured improperly. This led me to design and construct my own.

Desk Height

The first task was to measure from the elbow to the floor with the forearm parallel to the floor. This is the minimum height of the desktop. I made mine ½″ higher than this; an inch higher would be too high.

The Wood

Next, I found a good lumberyard. I chose Baltic Birch plywood because it does not have voids within the plys. This does away with the need for veneer banding or a separate hardwood bull-nose. I used a ⅜″ radius router bit to round the edges. This leaves nice alternating dark and light bands on the edge. I chose Brazilian Oak for the legs and stringers because it was only $2.50 per board foot and the lumberyard would mill it to typical 2″x4″ dimensions and cut it to length.

No Gym Required – Abs Exercises IV

Office work not only makes you fat, it makes you week. The old saying, “use it or lose it”, applies here. While at a client’s offices recently I saw several standing desks and exercise balls used in place of chairs, so it seems some people understand the problems (though I have reservations about using an exercise ball for a chair). The final two exercises require equipment.

Exercise Ball Crunch

The exercise ball should be the right size. The get the right size, sit on the ball with you butt just barely on the ball and lean back. Your legs should form a right angle.

To do the Exercise Ball Crunch sit on the ball with your butt just barely on the the ball and lean back, but not far enough to arch the lower back. With your arms behind your  head, pull your ribs to your pelvis in one smooth movement.

This is difficult. Do just a few the first few times to get the movement correct. You should then do this morning, noon, and just before you quit work each day until you can do a full set of twelve. Then strive for three sets three times a week.

These days, if you have an exercise ball in your office or cubical, nobody will think it is strange, however, lying on the floor and doing the bicycle maneuver will transform you into a curiosity.

The Captain’s Chair

This exercise is the Reverse Crunch done in the Captain’s Chair. Start and finish with the thighs parallel with the floor.

Just like the Reverse Crunch, curl the front of your pelvis towards your ribs and slowly return to the starting position. Strive for two or three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

On the Road

I was out with a young Private Investigator recently on the 401 highway. This is a 17 lane strip of asphalt inhabited by homicidal maniacs travelling at 120 kph. Being cut-off, rammed from behind when you slow down or brake, or hit by some fool crossing three lanes into your blind spot are all too common.

With traffic like this, its no wonder large pick-up trucks and SUV’s are so common. You need that large a vehicle to survive the impact. You also need to adjust your mirrors properly as I showed my young colleague.

A good article on how to adjust your mirrors can be found at Popular Mechanics. However, the diagram at the top of the article is incorrect. You should not be able to see your rear fenders when sitting upright.

The Stand-Up Desk

The greatest problem with knowledge work, as I see it, is the desk and chair. One does not move enough throughout the day. Sitting motionless in a chair for extended periods is not good for the back or your waistline.

A 1991  Boeing Study found that sitting puts 40% to 80% more stress on the back than standing [Bigos, S. J., Battie, M. C., Spengler, D. M., Fisher, L. D., Fordyce, W. E., Hansson, T. H., et al. (1991). A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16 (1), 1­6].

Another study suggests that adjustable-height tables might provide relief from the discomfort and inflexibility of fixed-height workstations.  Prof. Alan Hedge, the director of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, investigated this possibility in a 2004 study on the electric height-adjustable work surface, or EHAW.

The EHAW is a table with a built-in electronic control pad. By fiddling with the up and down buttons on the pad, users can sit low to the ground, stand up and otherwise fine-tune the table height in accordance with their preferences. Hedge noted that although EHAWs are common outside the United States and even mandatory in Denmark, but they are rare in the United States. These desks are starting to appear in some Canadian government offices. However, they cost as much as $2000.

Hedge conducted studies at two locations, an Intel Corporation site on the West Coast where employees performed extensive computer work and an insurance company in the Midwest where employees did moderate computer work. The results indicated that more than 80 percent of the employees favored the EHAWs to the fixed-height tables.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, standing desks were popular in the homes and offices of the rich.  Most modern desks are 30 inches (76 cm.) but there is no such average for standing desks. It was common in the past to have a standing desk made to measure to the height of the user, since only the rich could afford desks. One way to get around the problem of accommodating many users at a single desk was to angle or slant to the writing surface.

Most standing desks have an open frame with few or little drawers, and a foot-rail (similar to those seen at a bar) to reduce back pain.

If these desks are good enough for Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Ernst Hemmingway, and Donald Rumsfeld, then it’s good enough for me.

Now that you know how a standing desk might help your aching back and why, you might want one. I’ll show you how to make one easily and inexpensively out of 2 x 4’s and 3/4″ plywood.

No Gym Required – Abs Exercises III

Now that your abs have regained some strength, it’s time to move on to the three most effective ab exercises. We’ll start with the bicycle maneuver. This exercise is the most effective overall.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press your lower back into the floor, and put both hands behind your head (don’t pull on your head). Bring your right elbow over to your left knee while lifting your shoulders off the floor, and then bring your left elbow over to your right knee in a twisting, bicycle pedal motion. Continue to breathe naturally. Continue in a slow and controlled manner fully extending each leg on every repetition but keep it off the floor.